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The Taming of the Shrew

Kathleen McCall as Katherine and John G. Preston as Petruchio
Kathleen McCall as Katherine
and John G. Preston as Petruchio
Photo: Terry Shapiro
In what will go down as one of the most clever adaptations you're ever likely to experience, artistic director Kent Thompson chooses to map the geographic meanderings of this 16th century Italian commedia dell'arte infused classic to the United States circa 1950 (kudos to scenic designer David M. Barber). The upshot is that Kate (Kathleen McCall) is from a conservative Italian family from Chicago (Padua), while Petruchio (John G. Preston) is a macho cowboy from Dallas (Verona).

(Left to right) Matt Zambrano as Tranio and Drew Cortese as Lucentio
(L to R) Matt Zambrano as Tranio
and Drew Cortese as Lucentio
Photo: Terry Shapiro
The resulting mix of American milieus, including a cornucopia of dialects and accents, heap constant servings of delightful absurdity upon a text already rich in comedic innuendo and broad slapstick.

Of all the Shakespearean comedies (and from this categorization we exclude the traditional assignment of The Merchant of Venice), The Taming of the Shrew presents the most serious challenges for contemporary Western audiences, due to the conservative sexual roles defined in the text.1 The most successful directorial strategy for overcoming this issue has generally proven to be some sort of farcical premise that inverts the literal sense of the difficult passages, for example, Petruchio subordinating himself on bended knee while Kate, in her final speech, expresses her views on women (in many ways a companion commentary to Berowne's musings on the same subject in Love's Labors Lost).

Philip Pleasants as Sugarsop, Matt Zambrano as Tranio, and Robert Sicular as Baptista Minola
Philip Pleasants as Sugarsop,
Matt Zambrano as Tranio,
and Robert Sicular as Baptista Minola
Photo: Vicki Kerr
By finding context in mid-20th century America for sexist behaviors that contemporary society generally frowns upon, Thompson opens up new vistas for interpreting Kate's final speech, as he has her momentarily alighting next to the various men in her life—including her father, Baptiste (Robert Sicular), her former suitor, Gromio (Randy Moore), her new father-in law, Vincentio (Mike Hartman), and her husband, Petruchio—essentially turning her words into as much a commentary on the attitude of these men as on her own point-of-view.

The ensemble is excellent from top to bottom. As Kate and Petruchio, McCall and Preston kick it off with a mutual recognition that they are wildcats at heart, an understanding which continues throughout, even as it changes form after their marriage.

John-Michael Marrs as Hortensio, Christy McIntosh as Bianca and Drew Cortese as Lucentio
John-Michael Marrs as Hortensio,
Christy McIntosh as Bianca,
and Drew Cortese as Lucentio
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Lucentio (Drew Cortese) and Tranio (Matt Zambrano) are two characters at once, themselves and each other, which Cortese and Zambrano navigate with aplomb, providing a constant destabilizing force in the comedy, their disguises always on the verge of being discovered. This conceit is employed to circumvent the security that Baptista Minola (Robert Sicular), a wealthy merchant, has placed around his comely daughter, Bianca (Christy McIntosh). Sicular brings a refined yet authoritative gravitas to the patrician, while McIntosh (dolled up in Susan Branch Towne's wonderful '50's costumes, including a poodle skirt), does a marvelous job—in concert with Cortese—creating a sweet romance in high contrast to the heavyweight bout in the center ring.

Gremio (Randy Moore) and Hortensio (John-Michael Marrs) are winsome as Bianca's hapless, would-be suitors. Philip Pleasants delights as Sugarsop, who is recruited by Tranio to impersonate Lucentio's father. Mike Hartman's authoritative Vincentio provides the climatic spark.

John G. Preston as Petruchio and Kathleen McCall as Katherine
John G. Preston as Petruchio
and Kathleen McCall as Katherine
Photo: Vicki Kerr
Director Thompson surprises us throughout, even to the last moment, finding unprecedented ways of making contemporary sense of the text.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's production of The Taming of the Shrew runs through February 26th. For tickets: 303-893-4100 or www.denvercenter.org.

Bob Bows

Footnotes:
1 From the Oxfordian perspective, the characters of Kate and Petruchio are based on the playwright's (Edward de Vere's) sister (Mary) and brother-in-law (Peregrine Bertie), whose personalities are only slightly hyperbolized herein.

 

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